71-year-old Balasundaram, a retired mill worker from Singanallur constituency in Coimbatore district, opened his door to local leaders from a Dravidian major on Sunday. He knew the visit was due, given that the Assembly elections were just a day away. As predicted, they offered him Rs 500 in return for his vote. Enraged by the illegal activity, Balasundaram yelled at the party workers and threatened to complain to the police.
But this voter from Tamil Nadu is in the minority when it comes to refusing offered money. Just a few metres away, he says, his neighbours were happy to accept Rs 500 for every voter in their household. Across the state, money has been exchanging hands despite the Election Commission's efforts to curb the cash-for-votes menace in the state. According to residents who spoke to TNM from multiple regions in the state, the amount offered this year varies from Rs 200 to Rs 1000 based on the district and also on the candidate who is standing there.
In one constituency in Chennai central for instance, both Dravidian majors are allegedly offering Rs 500 each. Residents however claim they are disappointed by this offer.
"Last time, we were given Rs 1000 and free biryani for every voter. They have slashed rates this time," says Valli*, a resident in the area. She explains that the distribution of cash itself is part of a well-oiled system that lasts two days ahead of the elections. "The money is given to the families of local party leaders and then the entire family is involved in distributing it. I may get it from one person and my husband from another. Sometimes, they could just offer it while we are buying groceries or may even come give it at home," she adds.
In any election in Tamil Nadu, the last 72 hours are sensitive from the expenditure standpoint. The Election Commission has put in place round the clock surveillance and central teams to prevent the bribing of voters. As of Monday, surveillance teams have seized cash and valuables worth Rs 428.46 crore, in violation of the election code.
The total cash seizure stands at Rs 225.5 crore, and that of precious metals (gold, silver, diamond and other ornaments) at Rs 176.11 crore. The liquor seized amounts to Rs 4.61 crore while other items are valued at Rs 20.01 crore.
While several voters who spoke to TNM admit to being offered money by both Dravidian majors and their allies, the ruling AIADMK has approached the Election Commission demanding that polls be rescinded in five constituencies where the DMK is allegedly paying residents for their votes. The constituencies where AIADMK wants the elections countermanded are Kolathur, Chepauk, Katpadi, Tiruvannamalai and Trichy (West). All five have high-profile DMK leaders contesting from these seats.
When TNM spoke to voters in one of these constituencies however, they maintained that they received money from both parties and that while one of them offered Rs 500 per vote, the other offered Rs 300.
In most constituencies, residents offered similar numbers and it was only in seats with high profile candidates that the contestant added to the base amount offered by the party to voters.
While AIADMK Minister Jayakumar alleged that Google Pay has been used to transfer money in some constituencies, voters largely describe the process as very casual.
"The local leaders know how to route the money. In every area they identify some houses and tell them to distribute the money. There have been no power cuts or other methods used," says a voter from Vellore district.
In North Chennai meanwhile, several voters say they are still waiting for the money to arrive. While some streets have been paid, others tell TNM that party workers will come after nightfall to offer them cash.